14 March 2012


    Malaysian protesters gesture during a protest against a rare earth refinery being built by Australian miner Lynas amid fears of radioactive pollution in Kuantan, eastern Malaysia, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. Photo: Lai Seng Sin / AP 
The protesters have beengiven an emotive issue in the form of a mid-1980s rare earth processing facility developed in 1985 by Mitsubishi Chemical at Bukit Merah in northern Perak state near the city of Ipoh that turned into an environmental disaster. 
The facility was closed in 1992 amid allegations that it was causing widespread 
groundwater and other environmental contamination and was responsible for 
deaths from leukaemia as well as birth defects in children living nearby.

The Bukit Merah site, 20 years 
later, remains one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites despite the fact that Mitsubishi has owned up to the pollution and poured an estimated US$100 million into the cleanup. 

Pictures purportedly of dying 
individuals and deformed babies have been given wide circulation both on the Internet and by other means throughout the country. Extract from: http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4331&Itemid=164 

"An industrial scale wind turbine uses more than a ton of magnets, 35 percent of which is dependent on neodymium.... To extract rare earth metals, aggressive acids are pumped into well-like bore holes where chemicals dissolve the deposits. The slurry is then pumped into ponds at high occupational and environmental risks".


From a Presentation by Dr. Per Peterson, professor and chair of nuclear engineering at Berkeley, the following figures for the mining needed to produce 1 megawatt.year of electrical energy (1MWe.y) for each technology is as follows:

676 tonnes (0.74t steel + 8.44t concrete + 666.7t U ore at 300ppm)
680 tonnes (123t steel + 557t concrete)
~5,500 tonnes (4.19t steel + 16.4t concrete + 5,500t coal)
Combined Cycle Natural Gas
963 tonnes (0.147t steel + 2.88t concrete + 960t gas)

Finally, the figure for nuclear power assumes the use of light water reactor technology.... it is likely that most new nuclear capacity will be breeder reactors....  so the mining requirement shrinks to 0.5% of that figure. This would bring down the fuel mining figure for nuclear power from 666.7 tonnes to 3.35 tonnes.

Nuclear (Breeder Reactors)
12.53 tonnes (0.74t steel + 8.44t concrete + 3.35t U ore at 300ppm)

Wind ÷ Breeder Reactor = 680 ÷ 12.53 = 54

So:  How Green is Greenpeace?
This is from their Energy [R]evolution policy:

"In the long term, wind will be the most important single source of electricity generation". 

This can now be paraphrased as:  We can ruin the planet 54 times more quickly!


  1. "it is likely that most new nuclear capacity will be breeder reactors"

    No new reactors in the UK will be breeders. All of the 10 new reactors proposed for the UK are Pressurised Water Reactors, the first of these is EDF's notoriously expensive and delay-prone European Pressurised Reactor. Fast breeder builds consistently face huge cost overruns and delays. The UK government has said thorium reactors "[do] not currently have a role to play in the UK".

    Currently the biggest source of energy proposed for the UK is expensive, imported and highly polluting gas. Only renewable energy, wind being key amongst them, and energy efficiency measures can be brought online in time to bring down bills long term and cut CO2 emissions.

  2. Only a minor correction : the nuclear figure is dead wrong, it takes no more than 200 kg (not tonn) of natural uranium to produce one MWyear of electicity, thus the final right number is about 10 tonn - it has no sense at all to deal with ore uranium and on the other hand "5,500 t" for coal and "960 t" for CC nat gas.

    Further, I agree with you that at least in the long term nuclear should be breeders not LWR or Candu, but I would do note thorium based *thermal* breeder, not plutonium fast breeders as basically developed until today

    1. I suppose 5500 tonnes for coal is all (approx) that is actually mined, even though a mountain top might be removed and replaced and 960 tonnes of gas 'mined' for CCGT.

      The significance though is that in two or three decades, it will be wall to wall breeder reactors for sustainable base load and renewables will be relegated to a low single figure percentage of overall energy production - which is where they should be. The figures then become: Wind- 680 tonnes. Nuclear - 12.53 tonnes. A ratio of over 50 : 1.

  3. Indeed I think that guess is wrong, too, it actually needs about 3-5 milions tonnes of coal per year to power a GWe coal station, this is only the coal input, not considering ore grade and mined rocks (that's the same for nat gas and CC). It's not particurally relevant to your reasonable correct arguments, but however it' s important to consider the right numbers

    1. The figure in the study is per MWyear, so it's at the top end of the range you give.

  4. There are convincing arguments for using nuclear, this is not one of them.

  5. Professor Per Peterson thought it was worth putting research effort into it. Why is it not worthwhile pointing out, in the face of crazy support for wind turbines, which presupposes they are environmentally 'inert'? What are the convincing arguments you speak of?

  6. @Kurt, what are those convincing arguments?
    I'm yet to hear of a case which justifies the means necessarily to implement a global nuclear technology. I think we'd be much better off in sticking with the heat pumps, solar panels and wind turbines offered by domestic companies like WDS Green Energy, the battle's going to won in house and home IMO.